As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.
Today, we have a special treat. Our friend, and one of the Pastoral staff at our home church, Charla Gwartney is offering our Lenten reflection. Rev. Charla Gwartney serves as Executive Pastor at Acts 2 United Methodist Church, overseeing administrative details of the congregation. She is blessed to be a part of a growing congregation with a heart for ministry. Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth. They live in downtown OKC and enjoy the urban life of Oklahoma's largest city in their free time.
A reading from the Gospel of John.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
— John 12:1-11 (NIV)
This passage is a beautiful picture of unconditional and unrestrained love. Mary’s devotion to Jesus seems to overwhelm her after supper. She can’t help but pour herself out for Jesus, to express the fullness of her love for this man. A pint of pure nard? Suffice it to say, that is a lot! The house would’ve smelled of that fragrance for weeks. It was a huge sacrifice financially – a year’s wages. And yet, the way the scripture reads, it appears Mary never gives it a second thought. She seems glad for the opportunity to offer Jesus a sign of her love.
The way the scripture is written, we can see the contrast between Mary’s response to Jesus and Judas’ response to Jesus. Mary willingly and gratefully makes this sacrifice. Judas, on the other hand, is all too ready to point a finger. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” The scripture gives us no indication that the perfume belonged to anyone but Mary. It was completely hers to use however she chose. Judas, on the other hand, takes even what is not his and uses it however he choses. This is a powerful contrast indeed.
The season of Lent is a time for me to look at what is really in my heart. I find that I have a bit of Mary and a lot of Judas. I do have a desire to love Jesus unconditionally and without restraint, but there is also a strikingly powerful desire to be in control. I want to examine everyone else’s sacrifice and pronounce judgment, while still holding on to my own. It is hard for me to release my tight grip on control and relax into the place of complete trust and devotion.
So, what are the results of my choices? Looking at the difference between Judas and Mary, the contrast is again clear. Which of the two could put their head on the pillow at night and rest with peace? Many a night, I have wrestled with the need to hold onto it all – to stay in complete control – refusing to release. Those are hard nights and I’m sure Judas had plenty of them. Mary, on the other hand, probably put her head on the pillow with a “good tired” that night. She had spent herself in self-giving. She had done what she felt called to do. Certainly, it was tiring, but she also had contentment and peace about it that allowed her to rest and trust.
Jesus saw her gift for what it was – a powerful offering of unconditional love and devotion. He also saw her gift as participation in the very will of God. This act of anointing was really about preparing him for burial. The power of what Mary did for Jesus can only be truly appreciated in this context. She did what she felt led to do, not knowing how it fit perfectly within God’s will. God used her gift to bless Jesus in a powerful way and allowed a beautiful foreshadowing of what was to come.
I want to love like Mary loved. I know and understand Judas’ response much better than Mary’s – that is just the truth about me. But, I also know the depth of angst I feel when I refuse to let go, refuse to trust, refuse to see the blessing poured out in front of me (smelling up the whole house). I want to gratefully and graciously be poured out for my Lord. I want to participate in the bringing of the Kingdom of God. I want to leave an aroma in the air I touch that reminds others to love deeply, without caution, and unconditionally.